It's now almost certain the TRAPPIST-1 system's sun is too volatile for life to exist on its planets

Trappist 1 seven earth size planets discovery nature 8NASA/JPL-CaltechAn artist’s concept of the TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool red dwarf with seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.

Gah. What little hope there was left of life on any of the seven Earth-like planets circling red dwarf TRAPPIST-1 has been all but snuffed out.

A new study based on data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft claims TRAPPIST-1 emits damaging solar flares on average about once every 28 hours.

In just the 80-day window of data observed, astronomers from the Konkoly Observatory in Hungary noted 42 “strong” events, one of which was at least as strong as Earth’s own Carrington Event.

That occurred back in 1859, causing auroras to been seen around the world from North Queensland to the Caribbean. There are stories of the auroras being so bright in some areas, people thought dawn had broken.

If we got hit with another one, it could spell disaster, wiping out power grids across the planet. During the Carrington Event, telegraph systems across Europe and North America went down, and modeling has shown a similar incident now could cost North America up to $US2.6 trillion.

Solar flareWikimedia CommonsA giant solar flare erupting from the sun.

In terms of life, the frequency of such storms on TRAPPIST-1 would virtually strip away any atmosphere from its orbiting planets, which are much closer to their dimmer sun than the Earth is to its sun.

The only very slim chance that this hasn’t happened is if the TRAPPIST-1 planets have somehow developed magnetospheres thousands of times more powerful than the Earth’s and can ward off the blasts.

We knew TRAPPIST-1’s radiation put the chance of life on its planets in peril – it goes with the territory of closely circling a sun. But now we know just how often, and how large, the blasts are coming, it looks like the hunt for alien life is still on.

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